Step 11: Through prayer and reflection together, we seek to improve our relationship with God and each other by asking for help, seeking knowledge of His will for us, and exercising the power to carry this out.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” – Thomas Merton
Don’t let prayer be so intimidating that you not do this step. Yes this step is about prayer, but more importantly, this step is about establishing a practice with your spouse that will unite you in a common experience together. Remember from step 2, we admitted that God is neither ourselves or our spouse. This step is about establishing a connection together towards the mystery of who God is and what God desires for your life and your marriage together.
There is a tool that many therapists use in work with their clients called Johari’s Window. It’s a simple box with 4 squares/windows that describes the schematics of someone’s personality.
– Window 1: The open self. What I and others know about me.
– Window 2: The blind self. What others know about me that I don’t know.
– Window 3: The hidden self. What I know about me that others don’t.
– Window 4: The mysterious self: Unknown things about me that no one knows.
I think we can apply this schematic to relationship with God. The way I would describe these windows about God would be:
– Window 1: The known God. What everyone knows or experiences about God.
– Window 2: The hidden God. What I have yet to encounter or see about God.
– Window 3: The God I see. What I have seen or encountered about God that you have not.
– Window 4: The mysterious God: Unknown things about me that no one knows.
Step 11 is about exploring these four windows of relationship to God, together. In the AA process there is a line in step 11 that is of importance. It says, we are practice prayer and contact with God “as we understood Him.” Much of what we know or make up about God is more of a reflection of ourselves than it is about God. I would suggest that window 4, the mysterious God, represents over 99.999% of who God truly is. The best way I have heard someone explain this mystery is that the more we know of God, the more we recognize how little we know of God.
The previous step, Step 10, was about maintenance in your horizontal relationship with your spouse. Step 11 is about maintaining peace in your marriage relationship with God. We need not do this step alone as we will be stuck in windows 1 and 3. Getting stuck here will ultimately become a rigid and limited spiritual relationship as there is no space for windows 2 and 4, and I think if we’re honest, we are quite afraid of what is in windows 2 and 4 (in both examples above).
Many of us live out our lives letting the fear of what we don’t know be our guiding light. It is so hard to be afraid of something or someone and not give our entire attention to it. It’s kind of like mountain biking. When you’re biking down a mountain trail, the way you turn your bike is mainly with your head and eyes. The bike goes where your attention goes. When you look at the path ahead, your body makes the micro adjustments necessary to steer your bike on the path. If there is a cliff or dangerous object to your right just off the path, it is actually more dangerous to give all of your attention to it. For when you only stare at the cliff, you are bound to make the micro adjustments with your bike that will steer you towards what you are looking at.
Acting out of this fear about windows 2 and 4 can lead us into living a life that is devoid of mystery, of surprise, or of discovery. I believe there is a time for routine, habit, and parts about life that we can count on, but if all aspects of life are headed in this direction we will become entrenched only in what we know. Ultimately staying in just what is known will mean that we ask no questions, take no risks, and develop security in and of ourselves. This is the antithesis of marriage.
Step 11 is an opportunity to turn around from what is known, and allow the mystery of God, of life, and of your spouse to be discoverable. And guess what, this too is dangerous! Wendell Berry quips in a section of his writings that “what man has not discovered, man has not destroyed.” When we discovery something new, we have a tendency towards taking that mystery and turning it into something we can use and control. And I think this sums up the dilemma of the human experience: We are constantly pursuing the mysterious (whether we are aware of that or not) and we don’t know what to do when we discovery the mystery.
Here are 3 considerations for you to practice as you take this step:
Presence not transactions. Let’s talk with each other, not at each other. There is a difference in being angry for someone and angry at someone (yourself included). The Advent season of the Church calendar is oriented around “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” Relationships are messy and beautiful. It is in relationships that we experience great hope and deep pain. Be committed to “relationship with”, not separate and alone.
Engagement not control. The world is ours to rule and subdue, not control. Yet we suffer greatly by attempting to control the world around us, and our relationships. We cannot control others (or sometimes even ourselves) but we can have influence with them. Use your gifts and powers for good to influence your world, don’t control or attempt to control it. Leave your community a better place than when you found it, don’t wait for someone else to do so.
Both and, not either or. Lean into the tension of life having mystery and binds. Life is full of tensions and choices: Light and dark. Life and death. Sweet and sour. Laughing and crying. We usually want one or the other, not both. Learn to live life on life’s terms, accepting both and, not either or.
Journal Reflection Questions:
- What words come to mind when you think about “mystery.”
- Who is someone you can ask for help to show you things in your window that you can’t see?
- Do you tend towards black & white thinking, or being more comfortable in the grey? Your spouse?
- What have you discovered about yourself in this step?